Dustin Snipes/ICON SMI
By George Dohrmann, SI.com
The decision by Notre Dame to retain football coach Charlie Weis left unanswered the question of how much money it would take the university to buy him out of his contract. Over the last few weeks, the amount of his buyout has been greatly debated by followers of the Irish and reported on by numerous news outlets. Figures have ranged from $4 million to more than $20 million, and some have speculated that the hefty buyout was what prompted Notre Dame to retain Weis for at least another season.
The first mention of a buyout figure of any kind came from SI's Peter King in 2006. Worried that an NFL team would poach their coach, Notre Dame gave Weis a new contract in the middle of his second season. It added five years to his existing deal and, according to King, included a whopping $21 million buyout for any NFL team that came after Weis.
Assuming that King's number is accurate, the first question that needs to be answered is this: Is the NFL buyout number and Notre Dame's cost to buy Weis out the same?
A prominent agent I spoke with who has negotiated contracts with both NFL teams and universities said that if he were Weis' agent in 2006, he would have absolutely pushed for the two numbers to be the same.
"If they wanted to increase the buyout for an NFL team, they would have to give [Weis] something in return," the agent said. "Extending the deal by five years would not have been enough in my view because there is no certainty he gets paid those years ... The stance I would have taken is that if they don't make those numbers the same they are offending my client. Given where Notre Dame was at the time, coming off firing [Tyrone] Willingham and all the criticism that brought, and how enamored they were with Weis, he had a lot of leverage."
The Chicago Tribune reported that Weis' buyout likely derived from some formula multiplying Weis' base salary times the years left on the deal. This would put Notre Dame's number somewhere between $4 million to $5 million, the newspaper speculated. That formula is common in contracts at public universities, where deals between coaches are more open to public scrutiny. Notre Dame, a private school, doesn't have to release contracts. "A school like Notre Dame can be a lot more creative with contracts," the agent said.
He added that if one assumes King's report of $21 million is correct, it begs the question: Why $21 million? Where did Notre Dame come up with that number? It isn't a tidy figure, like $5 million or $10 million. It also seems excessive. Would an NFL team pay $10 million or $15 million to get Weis? Not likely.
"That number [$21 million] had to come from somewhere," the agent said, "and it could be the remaining value of his contract. If that is the case, and if I were Charlie's agent, I would have pushed for the same number for Notre Dame to fire him. And, it wouldn't surprise me at all if they gave it to him."